Hulu Series Suggests Being ‘Woke’ All The Time Can Wear a Body Down

Being identified as “woke” — that is, finally understanding the multiple core inequities of American society — can get you admired or ridiculed these days, depending on who has done the identifying.

David Hinckley
Sep 9, 2020 · 3 min read

The new Hulu series Woke, which premieres Wednesday, mercifully sidesteps much of the judgment and focuses instead on how much energy and work this new awareness requires.

Lamorne Morris and his good friend the marking pen.

Packaged in half-hour episodes of dark comedy, Woke follows the story of Keef Knight (Lamorne Morris), a black cartoonist about to reap the rewards from years of drawing a strip called Toast and Butter.

Toast and Butter is going into national syndication. A major bread company wants to license the images. Other merch deals are looming.

We join Keef on the eve of the Golden-Con convention, where his appearance will serve as a kind of coming-out party for all this success.

In anticipation, Keef’s girlfriend Trina (Lara Goldie), his long-time fan and supporter, has already picked out an upscale condo they can buy with his new windfall.

That delicious reward will remove him from the tiny walk-up apartment he now shares with the endearing but slightly goofy Gunther (Blake Anderson) and Keef’s best friend Clovis (T. Murph) in one of San Francisco’s last affordable districts.

The only cloud in this happy sky floats by in a short passing conversation where Keef explains that he avoids political and social issues in Toast and Butter because in tense times there’s value in “keeping it light” and tacitly seeing the world in a color-blind way.

Okay. Then out of nowhere, as Keef is walking along the street posting flyers for his Golden-Con appearance, something happens. Let’s hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say it involves the San Francisco Police Department, and it recalibrates Keef’s outlook on the world, not to mention his outlook on Toast and Butter.

It also readjusts his behavior, so his previously plotted path to fame and fortune now suddenly takes a slightly different direction.

It’s a premise that clearly could get serious and intense, because in the real world these days that’s how a “woke” conversion tends to be regarded by both admirers and critics.

Hulu’s Woke, which was created by real-life cartoonist Keith Knight and Marshall Todd partly from events in Knight’s life, doesn’t go the lecture-and-argue route.

Rather, it lays out situations and events and conversations that can trigger an increasing woke-ness, while at the same time finding little ironies and absurdities that don’t diminish the problem, but add peripheral complexities.

Keef finds a “woke” life requires considerably more work, concentration and strategizing than his previous life, and all that juggling inevitably creates moments that are both amusing and sobering.

Woke further lightens its tone with multiple popular culture references. The first episode is barely five minutes old when we get our first mention of Aaron Magruder, creator of the revolutionary Boondocks comic strip.

The Woke vignette built on a famous scene from Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing will make viewers — almost certainly including Lee if he sees it — laugh out loud. There’s also an homage to the Barbershop movie series, which includes a white barber confidently declaring that Keef probably wants a “42” haircut.

Woke requires viewers to accept animation as a regular part of the storyline, but those sequences are consistent with the show’s tone, so they don’t get in the way.

Mainly, Woke never wavers from its more serious points. It just uses comedy to smooth the route by which it takes us to them.

The Culture Corner

All things pop culture.

David Hinckley

Written by

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”

The Culture Corner

All things pop culture.

David Hinckley

Written by

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”

The Culture Corner

All things pop culture.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store